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the web of life in southern Africa

Aquila spilogaster (African hawk-eagle) 

[= Hieraaetus spilogaster

Grootjagarend [Afrikaans]; Ekangakodi (also applied to some of the other eagles) [Kwangali]; Gondo (generic name for eagle) [Shona]; Ghama (generic term for eagle) [Tsonga]; Ntsu, Ntswi (generic terms for eagles) [Tswana]; Afrikaanse havikarend [Dutch]; Aigle fascié [French]; Habichtsadler [German]; Águia-dominó [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae > Genus: Aquila

Aquila spilogaster (African hawk-eagle)  Aquila spilogaster (African hawk-eagle) 

African hawk-eagle. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

African hawk-eagle. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland forest of the DRC and West Africa. In southern Africa it is locally fairly common in northern and central Namibia, Botswana (excluding the arid Kalahari), Zimbabwe, Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa. It generally prefers woodland and savanna, largely absent from high altitudes and dense forest.

Distribution of African hawk-eagle in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Typically resident, although it may travel great distances to escape from drought.


It mainly eats birds, typically hunting from a perch from which it intercepts its prey, using its large feet to tackle and kill animals weighing up to about 4 kg. It often uses a perch overlooking a water hole, then waits for birds to come and drink. Two hawk-eagles may hunt cooperatively; one bird flushes prey which the other strikes, then they both feed on the carcass. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous solitary nester, performing a courtship display in which the breeding pair soar together while calling to each other.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes, consisting of a large platform of sticks and twigs, lined with green leaves. It is typically placed just below the canopy of a tall tree, especially a Knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens), about 6-19 metres above ground. It may use an electricity pylon, cliff face or the nest of another bird, such as Martial eagle.
Aquila wahlbergi (Wahlberg's eagle)  

African hawk-eagle at its nest, Naboomspruit, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from April-August, peaking from June-July.
  • It lays 1-2 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 42-44 days, while the male regularly provides her and the chicks with food.
  • The chicks are brooded closely by the female for the first week; she continues to stay close to the nest for another three weeks, then joins the male on hunting trips to provide for the young. The chicks leave the nest at about 73 days old, becoming fully independent roughly three months later.


Not threatened globally, but Near-threatened in South Africa, as it is rare in the country. The causes of it's small population include destruction and degradation of woodland, and persecution for its habit of killing homing pigeons and other domestic birds.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.